Honestly, I didn't know James Herbert was renowned for horror, when I bought The Dark at this book sale at a ridiculously small price. I've read quite a few horror books, but only a few by each author; except, of course, Stephen King: but I couldn't help that, he's written too many books. I've begun, overtime, to associate horror with Stephen King. But I've gotten used to his style of writing. This was a good change; a little more raw, absurd, wild; a less focused on individual characters. It wasn't like the books or movies that you'd consider to be stereotypes of the genre. It did not have the usual formulaic plot characteristic of the horror-chiller genre: strange huge house; new residents, initially skeptics; a child, woman from the family becomes a sort of medium, seances and exorcism reveal that someone had died there in some sort of excruciatingly brutal and unjust manner. The book reminded me of Peter Straub's Ghost Story for having a similar villain, it had the cult-ish vibe of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (Lovecraft) and it was much like a 28 Days Later, society-breaks-down adventure!
Summary: The book opens with Chris Bishop, a ghost-hunter hired by the estate agents, entering an old house, Beechwood, to find thirty one mangled corpses. In the house and especially in the cellar, the black darkness seems like a force of its own. Terrified of the increasingly cold, uneasy atmosphere, Bishop runs away from the house. A while later, he is found on the street, unconscious and with no memory of what he witnessed and how he got out. Almost a year (I think?) after the Beechwood mass suicide incident, Bishop is approached by Jessica Kuleck and father, parapsychic Jacob Kulek to investigate three seemingly unrelated murders in one night that happened on the same road, Willow Road, as Beechwood house. Along with Edith Metlock, who is a medium and the father and daughter, with the reluctant permission of the house owner, Bishop, our cynical ghost-chaser, sets off to Beechwood to conduct an investigation. Following a perverse, gory vision Bishop has and an attack by a crazed woman, Beechwood is set to be torn down. But when it is demolished, the dark that was once contained in the house is released, as a powerful and seductive evil energy possesses the world, manipulating its victims to insanity.
The Dark is your classic fight between good and evil, light and dark offered with a twist. It brings up the question of what evil really is and whether it is a part of our minds or a stage in our lives. It also goes beyond a usual good trumps evil ending and concludes in a most amazing, though not entirely unexpected, fashion. The explanation behind the malevolent force that enters people's minds at night, that they call the Dark, was intriguing and unique. The science meets parapsychology aspect of the book was fascinating and well constructed. A recurring theme in The Dark is that the paranormal is quite normal; we just haven't understood it yet: it continues, predictably, with a wink and a, "but some of us might have already understood it", but that's getting into details that I don't want to spoil for you.
I loved the book for the ideas and the theme. What I do feel is, the book could have been condensed. There was too much mayhem for the sake of describing mayhem. Some of it I got, but most of it was written with a disturbing relish, making me wonder, which side the author really was on. Limbs being torn off, throats being sliced open, people being raped, throttled to death, poured gasoline on and set to fire: there was too much crude and unnecessarily detailed violence for my taste. You know how King starts Under the Dome introducing us to a woman who dies within a couple of minutes, anyway and plays no part in the rest of the book? Just to shock us? This happens more times that you could count in The Dark. I suppose I got to know the people and understand the terrific evil inside them, even when it was just a spark of darkness; but mostly, it just disgusted me. The book could have been a hundred pages shorter (mine is four hundred and fifty pages long.) and would have still been a harrowing but fascinating journey. Also, though Bishop is shown to grow as a character, becoming considerably more open-minded over the course of the book, I found it a bit annoying that he (the writer) still referred to Edith as 'the medium' till the very end.
The writing is by no means literary or verbose, it is almost a little dated, but it's immensely engaging. I read the book in one day and I do see myself reading more books by James Herbert. You should give this a try, if you aren't weak minded or easily bothered by gore.
The Readers Imbibing Peril Challenge is back, I think this is my third year participating. The Dark is my first book for R.I.P. VIII and there are many more to come!